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As I have noticed, it is rather common on music.SE to post a photo of a few bars and ask for help how to play it, e.g. fingering, how to play ornaments, etc.

Is that according to copyright laws?

My assumption is that

  • posting 1 or two bars could be ok and within fair use
  • posting the whole piece is not ok.

Is that correct? And if so, is there a strict borderline (e.g. a number of bars or a fraction(%) of the piece)?

This came up with this question, where a user was asking about an 8 bar piece.

Since one comment mentioned that copyright laws vary between different jurisdictions: I was assuming that the US laws apply here, since StackExchange is located in the US. However, it would be nice if you could confirm this as well, since other options could be that the jurisdiction of the poster or the publisher would apply.

PS: The only related post I could find so far is about copyright violation when transcribing notes, but that is not exactly the same.

  • This will vary between jurisdictions, but no, here in the UK (and as far as I can tell in the US too) it falls under fair use. That said, I am definitely not a lawyer. I'll see if we can migrate this over to Law.SE as they have people qualified in this sort of thing. – Rory Alsop Apr 16 '18 at 17:07
  • @RoryAlsop the UK does not have fair use, it has fair dealing which is much more limited. – Dale M Apr 16 '18 at 21:22
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    @Marzipanherz hundreds of jurisdictions apply to the stackexchange network because it is available globally. – phoog Apr 30 '18 at 3:28
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    A really good answer to this question should address not only whether use of such excerpts for learning to play would ordinarily fall under Fair Use (or local equivalents), but also cover the fact that under Stack Exchange Terms of Service users represent that they license submissions under CC BY-SA. – Ben Voigt Apr 30 '18 at 6:07
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    I appended a bit to my answer, to quote from one of the StackExchange Help topics. – ChrisW May 27 '18 at 11:39
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+50

All I know of "Fair use" is from reading Wikipedia: see Fair use.

My assumption is that: 1) posting 1 or two bars could be ok and within fair use; 2) posting the whole piece is not ok. Is that correct?

That's my assumption too. Similarly (on other SE sites) I'll upload a paragraph of an article, a screenshot of a page of a book of text, if I want to ask about it or reference it in an answer.

And if so, is there a strict borderline (e.g. a number of bars or a fraction(%) of the piece)?

I don't think so.

Per Wikipedia, "Amount and substantiality" is important (less is better), and "Effect upon work's value" is also important.

IMO my uploading just a couple of staves (for critical or academic reasons) won't reduce the market's demand for the complete work from the copyright owner, so my doing that should be considered fair, not "infringing".


In the case in question it's an extract from a book -- i.e. it's not the whole book.

Also the music is from the 18th or 19th century (therefore out of copyright, I assume), although I don't know whether the book can copyright its representation of the music.

Also the book and its author are attributed (referenced, mentioned in the question). People on Stack Exchange like that: they'll ask you to reference (with a citation or hyperlink) what you quote. Doing that is mentioned in Wikipedia as one of the Additional factors:

As explained by Judge Leval, courts are permitted to include additional factors in their analysis.

One such factor is acknowledgement of the copyrighted source. Giving the name of the photographer or author may help, but it does not automatically make a use fair.

I'd guess that, if anything, that would tend to help rather than hurt the copyright holder commercially (and would therefore please them, and make them disinclined to ask you to remove your posted extract) -- because a referenced quote of a snippet acts as kind of advertisement for the whole work.


Note there's a specific help centre topic about to reference work written by others: How to reference material written by others -- it says things including ...

  • Provide a link to the original page or answer
  • Quote only the relevant portion
  • Provide the name of the original author

Do not copy the complete text of external sources; instead, use their words and ideas to support your own. And always give proper credit to the author and site where you found the text, including a direct link to it.

... which are compatible with what I wrote in the answer above.

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    "I don't know whether the book can copyright its representation of the music": It can. A new edition is a "derivative work." Even if the source is in the public domain, the new elements of the new edition is protected by copyright. This includes the work of the editor and of the engraver or typesetter, to the extent that they have added something new. A photographic reproduction of a centuries-old print, however, is probably itself in the public domain. – phoog May 27 '18 at 13:32

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